The Missing History of European Colonialism and Modern Right in Hegel’s Phenomenology


  • Chad Kautzer


European colonialism does not play a constitutive role in the dialectic of modern right and freedom in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Unlike the significance attributed to the conquests and colonialism of the Greek and Roman worlds, the expansionary activities of European empires are neglected in Hegel’s account of right in the Phenomenology, Philosophy of Right, and Lectures on the Philosophy of History. In this article, I argue that European colonialism and the need to justify jurisdictional expansion were pivotal in the development of modern right and thus should have been accounted for in Hegel’s phenomenology of freedom. I support this conclusion by reconstructing two developments in natural rights theory—in the works of Francisco de Vitoria and John Locke—that specifically emerge from European colonial activity. The result is an emendation to Hegel’s philosophy of European history and a new understanding of this history’s relation to modern right.